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Renewables & Energy Efficiency Responsible For 70% Of Carbon Emission Drop Since 2007

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Renewable energy development and implemented energy efficiency measures are responsible for 70% of the the drop in US carbon dioxide emissions seen since 2007 (when a slow decline began), according to a new report from Greenpeace.

The findings stand in contrast to some of the arguments put out there by detractors of renewable energy — some of who have argued that the drop in carbon emissions was the result of the natural gas tracking boom. The numbers say otherwise, of course. 🙂

renewables energy efficiency

The numbers come from Greenpeace energy analyst Lauri Myllyvirta who published them recently on the Greenpeace Energydesk website.

Carbon emissions in the US fell by a total of 16% between the years of 2007 and 2013, which was accompanied a 21% drop in US coal consumption during that same period. Natural gas generation (via the fracking boom) rose significantly during this time as well, up 23%. The coincident there was very happily harped upon by proponents of the fracking boom, but as stated before, the drop had more to do with renewables and energy efficiency (at least according to the new report).

“The supposed climate benefits of fracking have been a big selling point for the shale lobby, but this myth has now been cut down to size by compelling new evidence,” explained Myllyvirta. “Our analysis shows that it was the clean tech boom, not the fracking rush, that slashed the bulk of carbon emissions from the US power sector.”

Climate Progress chimes in with more:

… burning natural gas also releases carbon dioxide, just in smaller amounts. So while it made up 44% of the hole in energy consumption coal left behind, it only accounted for 30% of the drop in carbon emissions. According to Myllyvirta’s analysis, growth in renewable generation — and wind in particular — contributed to 40% of the fall in emissions, and rising use of energy efficiency covered the other 30%.

Renewable energy consumption grew just over 48% from 2007 to 2008, making up 35% of the energy consumption coal left behind. Rising energy efficiency measures made up the remaining 21% in energy consumption.

The Energydesk study also did not account for any leakage that may occur from the natural gas industry’s infrastructure. That means natural gas is almost certainly doing considerably less good on the global warming front than even Greenpeace’s numbers suggest, as the methane that makes up natural gas is, pound-for-pound, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Multiple studies suggest the leakage is so bad it completely undoes any climate advantage to burring natural gas. And a new study published by Nature last Wednesday concluded that, absent a big regulatory crackdown on those leaks, burning more natural gas won’t work as a method to curb global warming.


The leakage issue is an important point that people need to stop ignoring. Assuming natural gas is only half as bad as coal gets us into all sorts of problems. There’s enough evidence now that natural gas production results in massive methane leakage that analyses such as this one by Greenpeace need to do a better job estimating the extra emissions that come from that. As Jeff Spross of Climate Progress notes, it’s actually unclear if natural gas offers any climate benefit at all.

Amongst the report’s other notes is a reference to a recent analysis from Alliance Bernstein that suggests that renewables could make up to 10% of the US power supply by 2020, or 20% if they keep to their current rate of increase. Of course, whether these figures are achieved or not depends greatly on the state of the economy and subsidies through those years. We’ll have to wait and see.

“Ahead of a crunch year for global negotiations on a new climate deal, all the evidence points to clean technologies and smarter energy use as the most effective solutions to tackle climate change,” Myllyvirta continued. “Our political leaders will do well to remember this.”

Image Credit: GreenPeace EnergyDesk

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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